Rio Tinto and Summit Hydrogen Gladstone (SHG), a subsidiary of Sumitomo Corporation, will jointly deliver a project that will demonstrate the production of hydrogen and operation of hydrogen fuelled calcination for process heating at Rio Tinto’s Yarwun alumina refinery.
The alumina refining industry in Australia emits approximately 14.9 Mt of CO2-e per annum, or 3% of Australia’s Greenhouse Gas emissions. Rio Tinto estimates that the Gladstone refineries in which it has interests could potentially consume up to 178,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) of hydrogen at full scale implementation. Hydrogen calcination has the potential to abate approximately 25% of emissions at the Gladstone refineries. Hydrogen calcination also produces high purity steam, which can be recycled and upgraded for use in other stages of the refining process. By combining hydrogen calcination with steam recovery has the potential to abate emissions produced by fossil fuels for steam generation significantly.
By extrapolating based on current alumina production volumes in Australia, a market-wide rollout of hydrogen calcination technology could create demand for approximately 500K tpa of hydrogen and abate approx. 3.7 Mt of CO2-e per annum. In addition, there may be opportunities for the technology to be adopted by the global alumina industry.
By demonstrating the technical feasibility of hydrogen fuelled calcination and the potential demand at Gladstone’s alumina refineries, the project has the potential to support the development of the hydrogen industry and ecosystem in Gladstone.
The Project aims to validate the use of hydrogen for calcination process within an operating refinery and develop the systems, processes, and skills to manage hydrogen onsite and integrate into existing infrastructure. The project also aims to accelerate the development and commercialisation of hydrogen calcination technology and will also support the establishment of the Gladstone hydrogen industry.
The project will be delivered in two concurrent work packages.
Work Package 1 will be delivered by SHG and involves the installation of a 2.5 MW polymer electrolyte membrane hydrogen electrolyser and associated equipment onsite at the Yarwun refinery with a production capacity of 250 to 300 tonnes per annum of hydrogen.
Work Package 2 will be delivered by Rio Tinto and involves the design and installation of full-scale hydrogen burners and a steam recycle loop at Rio Tinto’s Yarwun refinery. Work Package 2 also includes the installation of 4 tonnes of hydrogen storage, which is required to store enough hydrogen to operate the calciner for 2 hours using 100% hydrogen fuel. This is considered the minimum operating window required to simulate and de-risk full scale operation of hydrogen calcination technology.
Once commissioning of Work Package 1 and Work Package 2 is complete, SHG will operate the electrolyser to supply 125 tpa of hydrogen to Rio Tinto’s onsite hydrogen storage for use in its modified calciner.
The objectives for the Project will be achieved through the following Outcomes:
Prove if the hydrogen calcination technology is technically viable for alumina refineries in retrofit scenarios and at large scale;
Determine the quantity of hydrogen and oxygen offtake required for a full-scale implementation of hydrogen calcination at Rio Tinto’s Gladstone refineries and signal to hydrogen producers the potential offtake requirements and economic targets to do so;
Support hydrogen industry development in Gladstone and, subject to technical and economic viability, cooperate and participate in the promoting of large-scale hydrogen production and consumption to be established in Gladstone in the future; and
Promote decarbonisation of the Australian alumina industry by demonstrating the safe and continuous use of hydrogen at scale in alumina refining.